In the past few years, Monroe has been hit with a blizzard, two major hurricanes and a snowstorm that took down trees and wires. Three of the disasters led to Gov. Dannel Malloy's declaring a state of emergency.
Police Capt. Michael Flick, who also serves as the town's deputy director of emergency management, says only the leader of a municipality has the authority to sign documents to declare states of emergencies for their towns.
When First Selectman Steve Vavrek cannot make it to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) safely on his own, Flick said a Public Works Department employee has to pick him up at his home.
Both Vavrek and Flick say that takes the employee away from his tasks.
"As deputy director of Emergency Management, it is my opinion that the CEO of any community should have reliable all-wheel-drive transportation to respond to town hall or the scene of a disaster," Flick said.
Vavrek currently uses a 2003 Crown Victoria, which has about 80,000 miles on it and rear-wheel drive, which performs poorly in wet and icy conditions and snow.
"It's a good, stable vehicle to get around town in good weather," Vavrek said.
But, in addition to poor weather conditions, the first selectman said he is concerned about long trips. For example, regional meetings in Hartford. He added that he recently burned a half a tank of gas driving to Wilton and back.
He requested $30,000 to buy a four-wheel drive vehicle with the intention of allowing the Crown Victoria to be used by another town employee.
However, the Town Council had asked Vavrek if there was a used car from the police fleet he could use, then voted to remove $30,000 from the "rolling stock" account for vehicle replacement. The first selectman was asked to forgo replacing his own car should another department have a more pressing need.
The first selectman decides how the account is spent.
Vavrek recently said he intends to buy a new Ford Taurus or a comparable-sized all-wheel-drive vehicle.
"The office of first selectman is a 24/7 position," Vavrek said. "There are things I should be out of town for and the car has to be safe."
Two Council Opinions
Town Council members Debra Dutches, a fellow Republican, and Dee Dee Martin, a Democrat, both attended Thursday night's Board of Finance budget workshop and were asked their opinions on Vavrek's intention to buy a new vehicle.
"I think the vehicle needs to be updated," Dutches said. "I don't disagree with that. I'm not sure when town facilities are closed that he can't work from home. There is no reason for him to be out there. He doesn't have to be with Public Works or the police, because they have a job to do."
While Dutches said she opposed the first selectman getting a new vehicle, she was in favor of $15,000 being spent to update a used town vehicle for him.
"I think there are many other departments right now with a much greater need for all-wheel-drive," she said. "I think of Public Works, police, EMS and fire and, at times, the land use departments — but I would not put the first selectman first."
Martin agrees that the first selectman needs safe transportation, but she said she would oppose something like a brand new SUV. She is also not comfortable with the first selectman deciding what vehicles to buy with the rolling stock, regardless of political party.
"If there's a sturdy four-wheel-drive vehicle from the fleet that can be safely passed on to him, I'd be all for it," Martin said. "But you don't need the top-of-the-line and most expensive, you need something safe and reliable. We've had some storms and hurricanes, but they have been far and few between."